Apple TV continues to dominate the market for media-streaming devices, although the total market is small enough to put the entire category's future in doubt.
Apple TV - both the first and second-generation models - together control about 55 percent of the media streamer market, according to a report by In-Stat this week that tracks the number of units sold during 2010.
Just over 3.5 million media streaming devices, also known as over-the-top (OTT) set-tops, were sold in all of 2010. By contrast, Apple sold 4.69 million iPads in the last quarter alone; in April, Netflix added support for the iPad via an app.
A separate In-Stat report found that about four times as many respondents said that they watched video content on a TV via a PC as a separate set-top box like an Apple TV or a Roku box. Mike Paxton, the In-Stat analyst who authored of the media-streamer report, said the sales figures led him to suspect that the dedicated media streaming set-top box might not be around in a few years, or relegated to just a services play.
"None of these are shipping in any large volumes - a couple thousand here, a couple thousand there," he said, speaking of the smaller players. "It just doesn't make sense when there are so many other devices in the home that do it already."
Apple TV shipped 1.95 million units, or about 55 percent, In-Stat found. In second came Roku, which notched sales of 450,000 units, or just under 13 percent. TiVo only sold 175,000 units, In-Stat said, or about 5 percent. Many more, including Logitech's Google TV, plus products from Iomega, Boxee, Western Digital, Sony, and Seagate sold under 100,000 units, Paxton said. However, several of those, including the Logitech Revue, Boxee Box, and others, began selling late in the year. In-Stat didn't release the entire report, reserving it for its clients.
In 2007, Apple dubbed the Apple TV a "hobby," and rarely broke out sales figures for the product up until the launch of a smaller, $99 Apple TV last September. In the week before Christmas, Apple said that it had sold a million units.
The problem, Paxton and In-Stat's research said, is that so many other devices offer the same services - Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Vudu, among others - that the dedicated streaming devices do.
A small In-Stat survey of 393 users found that 41.0 percent of those that view video content on the TV use a PC. About 25.7 percent use video game consoles like the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, which also offer the media streaming services. And a surprisingly large number - 34.6 percent - accessed those services from a connected television, more so than the 22.4 percent that used a connected Blu-ray player. The only device category to report fewer users than the video streamer/OTT box, at 11.2 percent, were those that used a PC's software in conjunction with another device to watch video, at 6.4 percent.
Rumors have surfaced that Apple might launch its own dedicated connected television, bringing the Apple TV inside it as a platform, rather than as a dedicated box. "If that product [the Apple TV] goes away, this market goes down to nothing," Paxton said.